Monday, June 10, 2013

Ode to the Courtesy Hotel - on Its 50th Anniversary

The ad above that appeared in Newsday in 1963 heralded the opening of the Hempstead Motor Hotel, later to become the infamous Courtesy Hotel, at 130 Hempstead Ave.  Believe it or not, at the time of its opening 50 years ago, the Hotel was actually a comfortable and classy option for visitors and tourists who wished to stay local.  Aside from offering a good central location in Western LI, the hotel was conveniently located adjacent to the WHH LIRR station, was across the street from some great shopping at S. Klein and within short walking distance to a number of good eateries including the West End Tavern.    The hotel featured well-appointed rooms (for 1960s standards), a spacious lobby, a steak pub called Winston's, a rooftop swimming pool and sun deck, and an underground bowling alley.  These photos below in full 1960s Technicolor appeared in some promotional postcards for the hotel, and give a sense of what the hotel looked like in those early days ---

A front view from Hempstead Ave

A view of the lobby

The rooftop pool and sun-deck

Interior of a room

In the 1960s and into the '70s the hotel played host to numerous conventions, job fairs and merchant shows.  In June 1964, that sunny rooftop sun deck pictured above was the site of the Miss Long Island beauty pageant, a contest that selected LI's representative for the Miss New York pageant later that year.

In 1971, Winston's reopened as the popular eatery Steak & Brew.  That decade was a period of transition for the hotel, and not in a good way.  By the end of the '70s the hotel's reputation started a long downhill slide that led to its ultimate demise a couple years ago.  In 1978, Nassau County DA Dennis Dillon, predecessor of current DA Kathleen Rice, ran his own version of Operation Flush the Johns with an undercover sting that nabbed a number of area motels, including the Hempstead Motor Hotel, for offering their guests pornographic films on pay-per-view.  Management began advertising "hourly rates" and thereafter the hotel became a magnet of crime with murders, rapes, drug busts, you name it.  The place caused a major strain on emergency resources for both the 5th Precinct and the WH Fire Dept.

In 1989 ownership changed hands and the place was renamed the Courtesy Hotel.  The community came out by the hundreds that year to oppose new owner Frank Zwelsky's plan to expand and enlarge his operation, and that episode galvanized the neighborhood's 20+ year long effort to shutter the hotel.  Indeed, one of the main issues at the forefront of the creation of the WH Civic Association in 1995 was to force the closing of the Courtesy. By the mid 2000s the owners of the hotel found a firm willing to buy the property and develop an apartment complex that won the approval of WH residents, but it took a few years and a number of Mother's Day rallies before the Town of Hempstead finally agreed to rezone the property into "transit-oriented" status in order to accommodate the developer's plans.  In May 2011, the wrecking ball dealt the final death-blow to the Courtesy and, roughly 16 months later, arose West 130, the luxury apartment building pictured below that took its place.

Front view of West 130

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